Brody, it’s mother’s day, so I’m going to steal one of the questions moms everywhere love to ask when their children’s friends are planning to do something stupid: “If everyone else jumped off a cliff, would you?” After hearing that question often enough, you might come up with a smart-aleck response like: “Well, they must have a good reason – what are they running from?” All kidding aside, this is the last time I, as your pastor, have the chance to talk to you personally before you become a confirmed member of Risen Savior, before you begin your high school and college years, before you grow – hopefully in maturity as much as height – into an adult. And I chose these verses from one of the shortest books in the Bible, because I feel a lot like Pastor Jude did 2000 years ago. This is what he wrote at the beginning of his letter: Dear friends, although I was very eager to write to you about the salvation we share, I felt I had to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints. (Jude 3) Brody, I would love nothing more than to dwell on the faith that you and I studied over the course of the past two years. I would like to further explore the mystery of the person and nature of Christ this morning, to plumb the depth of God’s love for sinners and to deepen your appreciation for the glory of heaven that awaits believers. But, to paraphrase moms everywhere – I know that when you leave here you will be confronted by many people who will tempt you to jump off a cliff into unbelief. So my final encouragement to you Brody – is to continue to build yourself up in your Christian faith.
If I learned anything from Brody over 2 years, it is a new appreciation for video games. I learned what an FPS is. (First person shooter) I learned that it is possible for a human being to survive an entire weekend in front of a TV on a diet of nothing but Doritos and Mt. Dew. But maybe the most interesting thing I learned is the most popular video games are extremely life-like. What does that mean? Well, not only do the graphics look like real life, but many video games consist of a process of upgrading – upgrading your skills, abilities, weapons, etc. And why do you need to upgrade to make progress? Because the levels get harder, the enemies get fiercer, the stakes (seemingly) get bigger. That’s really the same reason Jude encourages us to continue to build up (upgrade) our faith today.
Jude writes: dear friends, remember what the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ foretold. They said to you, “In the last times there will be scoffers who will follow their own ungodly desires.” These are the men who divide you, who follow mere natural instincts and do not have the Spirit. Like a video game, every stage in life brings with it new challenges, fiercer enemies, and higher stakes. We are living, quite literally, in the final level of world history. God’s creative activity was completed thousands of years ago. Jesus has also completed his mission of redemption; he suffered, died and rose to wash away the sins of all people of all time. You know that Brody. You also know that Jesus’ final earthly act will be to judge the living and the dead. He could return at any time. He will come when we least expect him, like a thief in the night. (Matthew 24) But until that Day, Christians will be surrounded by fierce enemies. Scoffers, Jude calls them.
What is a scoffer? Scoffers are people who laugh at the truths we sometimes take for granted, truths that you have known since your mother and grandmother first taught you about Jesus. They deny the authority of God’s Word and refuse to submit to God’s moral standards for their lives. Instead of following God’s will, they will follow their own ungodly desires. I know you’ve faced these enemies already, Brody. You’ve had science teachers who have laughed at the truth that God created this world in six days. You’ve had health teachers who’ve made a mockery of God’s plan for sex and marriage. You’ve had friends (and probably some teachers, too) who refuse to acknowledge God’s authority as Judge and tell you that the most important rule in life is to do whatever feels good. You’re no stranger to watching scoffers leaping off the cliff of truth into the abyss of unbelief that leads to hell.
But as you get older, as you start taking higher level classes and become more independent – those enemies will get stronger, too. They won’t be satisfied with simply following their own ungodly desires – they will try to divide you from your Savior and from your fellow believers. When it comes to sin they will make the false claim that “everyone’s doing it.” They will point to sociology and psychology to persuade you that God can’t be right when he asserts that there is no one righteous, not even one. (Romans 3:10) There might even be people who call themselves Christians who try to convince you that Jesus just wants you to be happy – even if being happy means sinning against his holy will. The trouble is that there’s a part of you that wants to agree with them, to go along to the edge of that cliff. You know what that part is called, right? The Old Adam. Your Old Adam wants nothing more than to go along with the crowd and satisfy your every sinful desire. And sometimes those enemies will win. You will disobey God’s will and go your own way. That’s when the 10 commandments you memorized will flash through your mind and your conscience will sternly remind you that anyone who breaks even one of God’s commands deserves to go to hell. But you also know what to do when you fail and fall. You know that that is the time to repent: to confess your sins and trust that the God who loves you enough to show you your sins loved you enough to send his only Son to die for them, too.
In life, like in video games, you need to be able to identify your enemies. Remember what the apostles warned about these last days, Brody. You will be surrounded by scoffers who laugh at God and his will. Remember this warning and don’t be deceived – anyone who teaches or lives contrary to God’s Word does not seek your salvation but your destruction. They seek to divide you from your Savior now and forever.
Remember this warning, and then remember the confirmation passage you chose: Hold on to what you have, so that no one will take your crown. (Revelation 3:11) I’m glad you chose that passage because it summarizes what Jude says here. When everyone else is jumping off a cliff by giving in to their sinful desires – don’t follow them. But you, dear friends, build yourselves up in your most holy faith and pray in the Holy Spirit. Keep yourselves in God’s love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life.
Back to the video game analogy. You need two things to beat a game. You need to know your enemies, their strengths and weaknesses – but you also need to build up your own abilities, stick to your strengths and work on your weaknesses. Now, every analogy limps – and so does this one. Because it makes it seem like you’re on your own now when it comes to building up your faith and staying in God’s love. But don’t forget this either, Brody, even as you head off to high school next year and into the world of adulthood, you’re not alone. No matter how tall you get, you will always be Jesus’ little lamb. Wherever you go, God will be with you. And through Jude, God shows you how to remain in the love he gave you when you were baptized.
First, he says, build [yourself] up in your most holy faith. The picture here is building on a foundation. And you have two great advantages here, Brody, the first is that you are building on the most solid and unshakeable foundation ever laid: the Word of God – which will never fade, change, or pass away. The other great advantage you have is that you have Luther’s summary of those basic doctrines locked away in your mind – you proved it last week. You not only know what God demands of you – you know that Jesus has kept every one of God’s demands perfectly in your place. You not only know that God created the world in six days, you know that God plans to destroy this earth and make it perfect and new again. You not only know and believe that the Holy Spirit created faith in your heart through Baptism, you also know that the Spirit preserves and strengthens faith through the means of grace. And that’s key. Because just as your enemies will get stronger, you need to build on the foundation God has given you. How? Read the Word. Hear the Word. Study the Word. Share the Word. Eat and drink the body and blood of the Lord. The world’s temptations, Satan’s lies, and your own sinful desires will shrivel up under the bright light of God’s truth. Don’t just upgrade your video game skills, upgrade your faith by feeding it with Word and Sacrament.
Secondly, pray in the Holy Spirit. After God has spoken to you, speak to him. Tell him things you would never tell anyone else. Tell him your hopes and dreams, your fears and concerns. Thank him for his love and ask him for anything – knowing that he will give you whatever is best. And pray confidently. You are God’s child – baptized and confirmed in faith – and no one can take that from you. Pray, confident that because the Holy Spirit presents your prayers to God – you will always be heard. Pray joyfully, knowing that there’s nothing your heavenly Father loves more than hearing from his children and meeting their needs. In good times and in bad, pray – and know that you remain in God’s love.
Finally, wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life. Something that you and I and all believers need to remember, Brody, is that no matter how hard we work, no matter how firm our faith and how much we persevere in prayer, we will never be able to completely reform or purify our lives or this world. Both this world and our bodies are terminally ill because of sin. Never forget that Jesus didn’t come to this world to make it holy, but to make us holy and to save us from it. Look forward to that day, because on that day Jesus will destroy all your enemies once and for all. On that day, Jesus will publicly declare what he privately told you in Baptism: your sins are forgiven, you are not guilty. On that day, Jesus will take you into his arms and give you the crown of life. That day will be better than any video game you can ever play, because the joy of the victory Jesus won for you will never end.
Even if everyone else is jumping off the cliff into unbelief and death, Brody, I pray that you never will. My prayer, Jesus’ prayer, the prayer of everyone here is that you will never fall away from the faith that you were baptized into years ago, that you confessed last week and will be confirmed in this morning. I’m confident that [the one] who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. (Philippians 1:6) He will help you to see your enemies for what they really are. He will build up your faith through Word and Sacrament, through prayer and through the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ. You might forget many of the things you learned over the past two years – but don’t forget this: the best level of life – eternal life – is yet to come. Hold on to what you have, so that no one will take your crown. (Revelation 3:11) Amen.